December 2016 saw a major victory for indigenous-led activism in the United States, one that should inspire all those striving for environmental and social justice around the world.
Energy Transfer Partners’ Dakota Access Pipeline is intended to connect the fracking operations of the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota with a tank farm 1,172 miles to the southeast in Illinois. In early 2016, the US Army Corps of Engineers approved the running of the pipeline under part of Standing Rock reservation, threatening ancient burial grounds and clean water supply. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe filed a suit against the army corps, which was rejected in September 2016, and in response, thousands of Water Protectors established a protest camp to protect the land, enduring intimidation and brutality from armed soldiers and police with water cannons and attack dogs, as well as worsening weather conditions.
Despite largely being ignored by the mainstream media at first, the protests gathered momentum and support, and in December (a day before the camp was due to be evicted), the army corps announced that it would deny the permit for the pipeline to drill under the Missouri River, instead seeking alternate routes. While there is worry that the decision could be overturned, and many Water Protectors remain on site, the campaign is proving an inspiration for other indigenous-led and environmentally-minded protests.
A camp has now been established at Two Rivers in Texas, for instance, in opposition to the Trans-Pecos pipeline intended to carry fracked gas from Pecos County 143 miles south to the Rio Grande on the border with Mexico. North of the border in Canada, meanwhile, First Nations groups continue to lead the resistance against tar sands exploitation because, as the Indigenous Environmental Network explains: ‘The cultural heritage, land, ecosystems and human health of First Nation communities including the Mikisew Cree First Nation, Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, Fort McMurray First Nation, Fort McKay Cree Nation, Beaver Lake Cree First Nation Chipewyan Prairie First Nation, and the Metis, are being sacrificed for oil money in what has been termed a “slow industrial genocide”.’ Following Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s approval last November of an expansion of the tar sands pipeline, the opposition of indigenous and environmental groups there is more crucial than ever.